Swai fish may be something you have seen in your local grocery store. However, you may wonder if this fish is a good choice for your healthy diet plan. Learn about concerns over this fish and how to ensure the fish you buy is safe to eat.

When people want to get healthier, one of the first moves they make is to change their diet. They may remove certain foods or switch to foods that are generally touted as being healthier choices. A common change is to eat less red meat and eat more fish. Fish is a good option because it is low in bad fat but high in good fat. It also checks many other boxes, such as being low in calories and sodium.

If you decide to add fish to your diet in an attempt to be healthier, you have many fish from which to choose, from cod to salmon. However, fish can be expensive, so you may look to cheaper options. One such option is swai fish.

Swai Fish Defined

Swai fish may be sold under the name catfish, but it differs from the catfish caught in the United States.

This form of catfish is found in Southeast Asia. Most swai fish sold in the U.S. comes from Vietnam. When sold under the name catfish in the U.S., it usually includes the words “river-farmed.” This helps to distinguish it from U.S. catfish. However, the best way to identify it is by looking at the country of origin on the product label.

This fish may also be called iridescent shark, but it is important to note that it is not a shark. This nickname is solely based upon its shark-like look and the fact that early in its life cycle, its fins glow. It may also be sold under the name shark catfish. It also is called by a range of other names, including basa, striper, tra, and sutchi.

These fish live naturally in freshwater areas around Vietnam.

They can be found largely in the Mekong River and also may be seen in the Chao Phraya River. Additionally, they prefer deep areas and are natural bottom feeders, just as the catfish found in the U.S.

They are endangered in their natural habitats because of being overfished, but the fish sold for consumption are not taken from natural waters, so the endangered status is not a concern and does not play into its availability. In fact, it is readily available from commercial farms.

Benefits of Swai Fish

Like most fish, swai fish is low in calories with a 3.5-ounce piece coming in around 90 calories. It also is low in fat with only four grams total, of which 1.5 grams are saturated fat, and the fish contains only 45 grams of cholesterol.

Another positive is it is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, which is the good fat that is beneficial for your heart. It is also low in sodium, with 50 milligrams. Finally, it is high in protein, offering as much as 30 percent of the daily requirement in just one serving.

It is easy to see why so many people choose to add fish to their diets when they want to eat healthy. Consuming swai fish enables you to avoid bad things, such as sodium, cholesterol and calories, while also allowing you to get healthy fats and lots of protein, which is filling and will help to curb your appetite and keep you from overeating.

It is a great replacement for other meats, especially red meat, which is high is bad fats, cholesterol and calories. It also has the healthy fats that beef, pork and chicken do not contain.

A Word of Advice

Swai fish is so popular with consumers because it is one of the cheapest fish on the market. It sells for far less than other types of fish, so people like that they can save money by buying it.

Plus, people like the health benefits. Even though, it is found naturally in Southeast Asia, the swai fish sold at your grocery store is not likely from those natural river sources. Instead, the fish you buy at the grocery store is usually raised in fish farms. They are specifically bred for food purposes and do not ever live in their natural habitats.

Farm-raised swai fish needs to be chosen carefully.

Because this fish comes from an area with far fewer regulations and requirements than the U.S., there is a chance for contamination.

Most of the swai fish you will see in the grocery store comes from Vietnamese fish farms. Typically, you can assume any fish labeled as swai fish or catfish with countries of origin in Southeast Asia are from areas where the health standards are low.

These governments do not follow the same patterns of regulation as in the U.S. There may be low standards for the safety of the fish, and even lower standards for how the fish are raised and cared for, which can also affect the final product that you may eat. This is important because it could expose you to things that could make you very sick.

There are concerns over the water quality in these areas, even in the local rivers. The water is often contaminated, contains bacteria and is unsafe for drinking, but these fish are living in it.  They absorb the water and whatever is in it into their flesh. So, whatever they are swimming in eventually becomes whatever you consume when you eat the fish.

In addition, the regulations for what the fish can be fed are not as strict as they are in the U.S.

They may be fed garbage or even waste. Like with the water, whatever the fish consumes, you eventually consume, too. Do you want to be eating garbage and waste? Probably not. Even if the fish are not being fed waste and refuse, the diets may not be conducive to healthy fish, so regardless, many farm-raised fish in Southeast Asia are not being fed a diet that leads to healthy flesh.

Swai fish also comes with a huge risk that it contains harmful chemicals and toxins. It may have high levels of heavy metals. It is also known for a high mercury content.

This means long-term effects could be very bad, such as nervous system damage or other serious health issues. Eating too much, too often could pose a high risk for such effects. In addition, pregnant or nursing women, children, and those with existing health conditions are usually advised to stay clear of foods containing high levels of metals. Even in a healthy person, consuming too much heavy metals through food sources could lead to devastating health consequences.

Another major concern is that it is very likely swai fish will contain antibiotics.

The fish consume them in the water and through whatever they are fed. Exposure to these medications through eating the fish could cause you to experience health issues. It could lead to antibiotic resistance, hormone issues or even adverse reactions due to allergies.

Finally, many of the fish farms are causing environmental concerns due to how they operate in the Mekong River.

They often drudge up mud and cause pollution that is harming the natural waterways. If you are environmentally concerned, this should make you pause. Such damage is hurting the natural fish population, along with creating bad effects for other local wildlife and even people living in the area.

Due to these issues, it is recommended that you only consume swai fish when you know exactly where it came from. If the label says catfish, then make sure to look for the country of origin and ensure it is the U.S.

If you do buy fish from Southeast Asia, then do your research into the farm and ensure it meets high standards before consuming the fish to avoid exposure to toxins, metals and chemicals. While doing this will likely negate the cost-saving benefits, it is much smarter than risking it with the cheaper offerings in the store.

There are several well-known and respectable brands coming from Southeast Asia that are supplied by companies that meet or exceed U.S. health and safety standards.

It is well worth your time to look into these companies and find out more about them. Buying your swai fish from these companies helps to ensure you are getting good-quality fish. Plus, it reduces the risks that the farming caused environmental issues or used practices that would not be approved in the U.S.

The Role of the Catfish Wars

It is important to note that there have been some issues between American catfish farmers and those in Southeast Asia.

The domestic farmers have been unhappy with the large market hold swai fish has had. They have gone through several attempts to make it more difficult for Southeast Asian farmers to sell their product here. It started with first getting them banned from using the label of catfish. Then, they pushed for more legislation and regulation.

This is often cited by those trying to say swai fish is completely safe. However, despite this, the concerns about the safety of swai fish still stands. The truth still remains that they are not as regulated as U.S. catfish. Therefore, you should always be smart when buying this type of fish and ensure you buy from a reputable company regardless of the country of origin.

Ways To Enjoy It

If you do find swai fish that is safe to consume and meets high health standards, you can enjoy it just as you would any other catfish.

Do be aware that it is less fatty than U.S. catfish. It is a white-flesh fish that cooks up well when grilled, fried or broiled. It can be crumb or batter-coated and also works well with sauces. The flavor is very mild and a little sweet. It does not have a strong briny taste. This makes it work well as a main dish in any meal. It is perfect if you do not like a strong fish taste or are new to eating fish.  

The Bottom Line

In summary, it is probably not the best idea to buy swai fish from your local grocery store. Unless you are willing to put in some research to find a reputable Southeast Asian company from which to buy.

Most store-bought swai fish is usually farmed in areas of Asia that lack proper regulation. The fish could be contaminated and cause you to become ill or suffer long-term health effects.

If you want to eat this type of fish and you do not want to pay a high price for it or have to research into companies, then the best option is to go with its American cousin, catfish farmed in the U.S.

However, if you do not mind doing your research, then you may find that you prefer the less-fatty version of catfish available from a company in Southeast Asia that meets high safety standards and stands behind its products as safe to consume.

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